Monday, December 19, 2005

X-Mas List Item #4: Nifty New Input Device

We use our computers today for much more than work. We chat with our friends and family. We shop. We bank. We read articles, essays and blogs.

But limits of earlier technology have given us this idea that such things must be done while sitting upright in front of a flat service.

It's high time we took computing off the desk.

Laptops don't really count; their design pretty much requires users to be sitting upright. I find using a laptop on a couch less comfortable than sitting at a desk; from a comfort standpoint, the laptop is a step backwards.

So, for X-Mas, Quantum Future Santa, I want a new way to point, click, and type that is efficient enough to use at my desk, yet portable enough to use anywhere.

One promising early alternative is the AlphaGrip: essentially a keyboard wrapped around a video-game controller with a trackball built in. The AlphaGrip appears thoughtfully designed, but, alas, at the time of this writing remains vaporware.

And anyway, I don't think a one-piece device for two hands will prove the best way to go. I would prefer to see a pair of wireless one-handed devices. Apart from greater freedom of movement, I want the option of mousing and clicking with one hand, like I do now. I need that free hand for snacks of a salty or greasy nature.

There are ways to eliminate the need for a second hand altogether. Take a look at the Twiddler2, a pricey little gadget that combines some kind of mouse-nub with a chorded keyboard. I wouldn't mind learning chord-keyboarding. It's supposedly not that hard. But the top speeds one can reach are relatively limited. And anything that's not immediately obvious to a beginner will always be underdeveloped thanks to its inherent disadvantage in the marketplace.

Voice recognition could become a major player in input. This would eliminate the need for both hands. But I'm really a quiet, hands-on kind of guy, and I think a lot of other people are, too. Besides, who wants to be sitting in a train car or cubicle next to three other guys enunciating, in their computer-friendliest voices, "Window Maximize. File Open. Budget. Column D, Row 11...?"

So here's my proposal: Start with an AlphaGrip. Split it in half. Make it wireless. And instead of a trackball, allow one or both hands to point by aiming the handpiece itself. (See my image, above right.)

(Yes, this is the kind of pointing we will be able to do with the upcoming Nintendo Revolution controller. It would be intuitive to aim the controller at the screen as though it were a laser beam. But, if you've ever played with a laser pointer you know that human hands are surprisingly shaky when magnified over distance. I suspect that the Revolution controller pretends the screen in front of you is far bigger than it really is. The feel will still be very intuitive, and you won't have any trouble keeping the pointer trained on small targets.)

This pointing feature would require motion detectors inside or detachable reference-point doodads. People would always be losing the latter, so the first option makes more sense, even if it adds a bit to the price tag.

In the longer run, we'll get rid of the handpieces entirely and replace them with a system of finger cots or clip-on nails. But I think that would push you out beyond my chosen ten-year horizon, Santa.

P.S. In case you're wondering, I do indeed plan to combine this with the keychain PC and the VR display on my list. It's a good thing I have you, Santa, because otherwise I think this wearable getup could be a long time coming.

For despite my high confidence that each of these items will appear within the next ten years, the early forms they take could make integration difficult. Manufacturers may use proprietary formats or fail to agree on standards. And probability kind of demands that I have less confidence in a complete wearable setup than I do in any one of the parts.


Blogger outlawpoet said...

I chose the frogpad because it allowed me to mouse and type at the same time. So far, so good, but it's still so slow... supposedly I should get up to 40 wpm, but not yet.

1:00 PM  
Blogger outlawpoet said...

40 wpm with only a few days training, I should say. they cleverly don't list a maximum speed. Also, regarding gaming, chords are sent instantly, on keypress. default keys delay until KeyUp.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

FYI - I'm expecting my Alphagrip in the next few days, and I'm going to keep a blog to record my experiences with it (

10:15 PM  

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